The angry mob

This is a local group…there’s nothing for you here!

Over the years we’ve taken thousands of pictures, several hundred of these have been posted on social media. Facebook groups in particular have been useful in getting the photographs seen by a wider audience. In the vast majority of cases these groups have been friendly and supportive. We’ve made lots of friends through these groups.

One category of Facebook group, however, seems to be less than welcoming to the street and documentary photos. These are the ‘local’ groups. Groups targeted at a particular area. They have names like ‘Beautiful so and so’, ‘Strictly so and so’. These groups call themselves photography groups but seem very resistant to photographs that don’t conform to some idealised impression they have of the area. Photos of flowers, picturesque cottages, birds and kittens are welcomed; a street photo of someone in front of a run-down betting shop not so much.

These groups seem to have many ‘experts’ in their midst; not just photography experts but experts in law, sociology and ethics. Once or twice some of these ‘experts’ deem the membership worthy to be graced by one of their own photos. Usually this is a flower, cottage, bird or kitten.

Photo by Bridget Gill

Recently Bridget posted this picture to a group called ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’. Many people liked it but of course, the ‘experts’ weren’t so keen. The self-appointed moral and legal guardians decided that it wasn’t appropriate. The group and Bridget would be left open to prosecution, parents would be appalled if this had been their kids, privacy was being violated and several other over the top clichés. The fact that the kids were unidentifiable seems beside the point. Pointing out that it would be perfectly legal even if they had been facing the camera would have been futile.

Of course once the ball gets rolling the morality brigade widen their fire. Soon it was my turn.

Both these pictures had been posted on several groups on Facebook, on Instagram etc. Only people in the ‘area-specific’ groups seem to have had a problem.

In fairness to ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’ the admins (except Helen) have been very supportive and have forcefully stated that the photos are both allowed and welcome on the group. There has also been a lot of posts made in support of these photos so thank you for that. It did make me wonder, however, why that after all the years and countless photos posted only some groups seem to have members that get so angry and offended.

I don’t really think it’s just about photography.

A couple of other pictures that have drawn the ire of the Facebook ‘locals’.

Man in lycra
Women in provocative poses photographed by middle-aged men are ok, this is disgusting.
Couple at Leeds carnival with hand down her skirt
This shouldn’t have been photographed as it could have been a sexual assault(!)

We are the first to admit that street and documentary photography is not for everyone. The idea has never been to promote it as anything profound or of greater importance than landscape or any other genre. The photos were always about real life. Some are controversial (to some people), some are humorous, some show a side of life that some people would rather close their eyes and ears to. Perhaps this is the problem. Some people want to pretend that they live in some utopian bubble and anything that goes against this is to be removed from public view.

There’s nothing wrong with pretty pictures (apart from they’re more prone to copyright theft but that’s another article). But every location is multi-faceted, all we are showing is a different side.

The photos have done well, especially the After the Coal Dust series. There has been a lot of very positive feedback much of it from the members of these ‘local groups’. Some of the most gratifying compliments are those that say we are portraying the local area in a sympathetic manner or showing empathy for the subjects. But even now the attacks still happen.

Traditionally this sort of photography would be classed as the norm. Ordinary people going about their everyday lives. Today it is something sinister. Why?

Jack Hulme was a Fryston photographer documenting day to day life in a pit village in the ’40s and ’50s. This celebrated photo is something that some people would be offended by if it was taken today.

Perhaps it’s about fear and control. Groups dedicated to specific areas are more personal, some people seem possessive even. Anything different to the norm is treated as interlopers or outsiders. A photograph of a more realistic version of their area is the cat amongst the pigeons of their idealised view. They want to present their area to the world in a way that makes others envious. I see similarities in the way some people only want to portray themselves through filters on their phones rather than what they really look like or how the rest of the world sees them.

There is the fear that these pictures shatter the carefully constructed facade. To counteract this fear they try to exert control and drive the outsiders out. Unfortunately angry people often seem to be the ones that shout the loudest. Rather than trying to rationalise their animosity to the photos they will hide behind privacy and safeguarding laws that don’t really exist.

There is no real privacy any more. Our phones track us everywhere we go and CCTV is on every street corner. It is also the case that many of those that shout the loudest about privacy are those that broadcast their lives on social media anyway. Every holiday, even every meal they eat is posted online.

I think the backlash against street photography is symptomatic of a greater fear of anything different.

I’m not claimimg that local photography groups are hotbeds of hatred, far from it. I am just trying to offer thoughts as to why there is so much more animosity stirred up in these groups than in more diverse groups.

We are fortunate in some ways that certain groups only hate our photographs. In some cases, this hatred is spread much wider, directed against minorities, whether it be race or religion. The much larger issue in ‘local groups’ is that they can become echo chambers for dangerous ideas. Although not in any way related photography, groups like ‘What’s happening in Castleford’ tend to be dominated by a minority of angry people who are very vocal in their bigotry and prejudices. Petty racism, intolerance and an undercurrent of abuse and even violence by a very vocal and ill-informed section seem to dictate the ethos of the group.

Certain elements make Royston Vasey seem normal.

Society is more divided than ever and I think this shows in the often misplaced fear people have, be it photography on a small scale or something much worse.

After all this we’ll still be taking and posting street images. Whether we like it or not this is life. We can close our eyes but it doesn’t go away.

9 thoughts on “The angry mob”

  1. Agree with all your comments here John. I see these “local Groups” as being very parochial. Parochial in their views, closing ranks and protecting their little communities or trying to protect them from the big World that is out there. If they took the time to look at the history of photography most of it was built around recording history especially “Local history” Famous photographers built careers and reputations recording social groups living in local communities. Historians would be very bereft of information and records if they had not. Most if not all these early photographers were Street Photographers primarily. They developed into members of the Social Historians and academics groups that recorded and used the growing media, newspapers and books, long before Television and today’s Social Media arrived. The images they took could be construed by some as incredibly intrusive but the state of the British people living in abject squalor and poverty helped society improve and strive to bring a degree of justice to the underdogs. If these images had not been taken and put out there for the few living blessed and fortunate lives, we might still be living in the same conditions that mainly arose out of the Industrial Revolution. Poverty, oppression of the the working man? So along the way small vocal groups grew that become very, very protective of their towns and communities and lo behold anyone who appeared to besmirch these communities, even if these early and even nowadays modern photographers shine a light on the true and unpleasant parts of these local communities…. A lot of your photographs show a Britain that is a shadow of what it was like… now divided, fearful, raciest, angry. Selfishness is the norm. Little sympathy for the needy, the displaced, those loosing their living due to greed on the part of Multinationals relocating to cheaper labour markets. A group of elitist in Government, who care nothing about the fact that 1000’s of decent people have to rely on food banks…. No if photographers stopped taking “real” photographs that highlighted some of these unfortunate people and the areas that were once proud productive and most of all a large groups of caring selfless people, that here in the North of England cared and would help and support on another, then society would indeed sink into darkness. These critics are I bet the very same who profess to being “good” people but I guarantee would pass by on the other side if they saw something unpleasant rather than shouting in anger to have that unpleasant thing rectified. After all it would make their little groups look bad. No lets stick to flowers and kittens and pretty views. Lets turn away and stop looking at images that prove just how mistaken and uncaring they really are.

    1. I’ve always felt that a photograph says as much about the viewer as it does about the photographer or even the subject. Unfortunately the impression I get of a few people makes me despair. I don’t think they even know themselves why they are so angry or what they are so afraid of.

  2. Jack Hulme is a really poir (sic) way to back up your ‘argument’ .. people in Fryston village loved it when he took their photos

    *** Had to edit this comment as rest of it was a bit troll-like, and fake email, masked IP address etc***

    1. In reply to the only valid part of your comment, I think you’ve missed the point. People used to be ok with having their photos taken, I’m questioning why it’s so different now.

      Might be helpful if you posted your name and used a real email address in future as otherwise comments get flagged as spam.

    2. I’m pretty sure the ‘troll’ comment was you Helen 😉 You’ve served to illustrate the point I was making about ‘local’ groups pretty well. Upset a ‘Facebook expert’ and then the nasty stuff starts.

      As we’ve said on many occasions a reasoned discussion is fine, all for it. A few insults isn’t really a discussion though is it.

  3. Michael Bends

    First, thank you John Gill for taking the time and effort to write this well-crafted article of concern. I will also say that, although I do occasionally take street photos. I do not describe myself as a street photographer. I mention this because in my other genres of images, I am having the same sorts of problems remarked upon above. What I am about to say about this may seem extreme to some or many. My opinion is based on a lifetime of observation, including my last 8 years [difficult years] interacting w/ others on FB. Although I have a number of beautiful FB friends, it is my opinion that a great many of the people I encounter are struggling w/ “hidden” psychological problems. When I say hidden I mean that they are often not aware of them, and we at a distance, are as well not aware. Facebook is a socially interactive space, which stated simply, brings forward the very conditions that innervate these personal problems exhibited as posts/responses. Fear, control, morality, gender issues, politics … all swimming in the same psychological sea on FB photography sites. Those who have psychological difficulties are often those who have extreme negative responses – responses which can even be non-rational. Most would agree that it is normal for people to have contrasting opinions but, not these people. As such civil discourse, or considerations of something [photographs] that they find unacceptable is not possible. They destruct the platform. They break down the dialogue we all need. There is no place for these people in civic discourse. Their opinions are attached to a negative mania that assists no one. It then begs the question, what is to be done with this situation in a society that accepts all opinions [perhaps w/ the exception of hate speech]?

  4. Claudette Laframboise

    Wife here Claudette .. interesting indeed.. simple solution really.. if I like the image I will say so but on the other hand if I don’t or if I find it offensive (this according to my taste) I will just scroll up.. in a “it would be nice world” scrolling up would resolve many issues and stop many angry crazy arguments.. on the other hand if a photog finds a disrespectful comment, he or she can just “scroll up” and ignore rude opinions.. hubby is a photog and I always say he was born with a camera in his hand.. still does photography in any and all walks of life.. many opinions out there as in anything that’s talked about.. you have amazing shots and I just find it sad to read how you feel.. bottom line.. does it matter what people think? Nope it doesn’t.. beauty is in the eye of the beholder.. don’t like it? Move on.. I do have to add one more thing .. ”stick to flowers, pretty views and kittens” is such a condescending comment .. it is not needed as it puts you and others with this view in the same room as the others who diss your images .. just my opinion

    1. No problem with flowers and kittens as such, it’s just when certain elements aggressively turn on subjects that aren’t so traditionally photogenic ????

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *